About: Ilona Bray

Ilona Bray is a former attorney and the author of several Nolo immigration books. Her working background includes both solo immigration practice and working or volunteering as an immigration attorney with nonprofit organizations in Seattle and California.

Recent Posts by Ilona Bray

Hey, All Those Cat Videos Have Helped Nonprofits Serving Animals!

catOne of the biggest questions currently on the minds of nonprofit development staff is, “How do we effectively use the Internet and social media to get our message out?” (See Nolo’s articles on Nonprofit Fundraising for more on this topic generally.)

Sometimes, just getting heard amid all the noise is nigh on impossible. Email open rates, for example, reportedly declined 4% from 2012 to 2014, such that only 13 people out of the hundred on your list will so much as view what the email contains. (Poof! Gone.)

So, let’s take a moment to celebrate some actual good news, an indicator that there is a way through the noise, or at least a benefit to the volume of what can be found online: According to Terrence Petty of the Associated Press, “Cat adoptions leap with help of Internet.” That is, the popularity of cute cat videos (hey, did you see the one with the German weather broadcaster?) have not only helped nonprofits place cats for adoption, but have RAISED THE LEVEL OF ADOPTIONS OVERALL, as people develop a greater sense of affinity with felines.

No comprehensive statistics yet exist, but one study cited by Petty found a 111% rise in cat placements. (What happened to the cats who weren’t placed? Uh oh, better not ask that.) Equally significant are the anecdotal accounts of shelters who have successfully used the Internet to place cats who were elderly or otherwise hard to find adopters for.

Okay, but not every nonprofit helps something that’s cute and easily videotaped. But surely this is also a reminder of the importance of visuals in our ADD-addled world. I’ll be every nonprofit can, with a little creativity, come up with some visuals.

Wondering What Your Real Estate Agent Does All Day?

If asked to guess what tasks a real estate agent spends time on, one might answer, “driving around to properties,” “preparing marketing materials,” or more cynically, “rounding up new clients.” But such answers overlook the significant amount of time that a high-quality agent spends on crucial background research, studying the local real estate market and how its ups and downs affect each home’s worth.

htbh5_1_1Here’s how Daniel Stea, a broker/attorney in Berkeley, California (and one of the newest advisers to Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, recently out in its 5th edition) explains it:

“I spend a great deal of my day simply talking with buyers and sellers, as well as evaluating properties for them. We‘re always running “comps.” Prospective buyers want to make sure they’re not paying too much; sellers want to make sure they’re not asking too little. We’re always looking at what other properties recently sold for, since that’s a key indication of where the market is currently at.

“Sure, many websites will give you real estate ‘comparables,’ but these are generally based on the average price per square foot of other properties that have recently sold—strictly objective criteria. But that’s just the starting point. It takes a human who has actually walked through all of those properties to start adding and subtracting for various subjective attributes such as location, condition, schools, and so on. That’s one of the values of what brokers bring to the table and why their services will always be in demand.

Also, beyond assessing dollar values, we try to help our buyers get a complete sense of a property’s strengths and weaknesses. Many times, for example, we advise them to park in front of the home they’re considering buying at 11:00 at night and roll down the windows. How does the neighborhood feel? Would you feel comfortable walking down that street? It’s all part of the calculation of both a home’s objective value and what it is subjectively worth to you, personally.”

Oh No, Now We Have to Worry About Hackers Stealing Funds Wired for Home Purchases?

Devil with piggybankWhen making what’s widely referred to as the biggest purchase of one’s life, the last thing you want to worry about is whether some criminal could divert your money elsewhere. In fact, the whole existence of the escrow process is so that you can safely park your money with a neutral, professional third party before releasing it to the home seller. (Learn more about this in Nolo’s articles on “Escrow and Closing.”)

Technological improvements in the money transfer process mean that you at least don’t have to carry the money in a briefcase with an armed guard — but these innovations have simultaneously introduced a new type of risk. Hackers have reportedly found a way to bust into the email accounts of real estate agents and glean just enough information with which to masquerade as escrow officers and then send home buyers instructions on how to wire the funds to the hacker’s account instead of the sellers. (See “HACKERS PERPETRATE WIRE TRANSFER FRAUD IN REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS,” by Bob Hunt in RealtyTimes.) 

Uh oh. How will you know the difference? With any luck, these hackers will continue to display the usual lack of professionalism shown in many scam emails, and perhaps tip you off by spelling “escrow” as “esscro.” But hackers seem to be getting smarter lately, which means Internet users must also get smarter.

Thankfully, as Hunt points out, there’s a low-tech solution. When you get the email with the escrow instructions, CALL YOUR ESCROW OFFICER. Confirm that the email truly came from him or her, and ask for the bank account number over the phone. It’s worth those extra few minutes of your time.

Immigration: A brief history

Nolo’s founding happens to have coincided with a quantum leap in the numbers of immigrants coming to live permanently in the United States (with a green card). Back in the white-picket-fence 1950s, typical annual immigration to the U.S. was about 250,000 people. That number doubled in the 1970s, largely reflecting new laws that scrapped quotas favoring immigrants from Europe. The numbers of immigrants doubled again by the 1990s, and now over a million people receive U.S. green cards every year.

Not surprisingly, the immigration laws have been reworked numerous times over the same time period, reflecting contradictory U.S. impulses. On one hand, legislators have sought to gain the advantages of immigrants’ expertise, investment dollars, and willingness to work; and to protect victims of war, political injustice, and humanitarian crises. On the other hand, as the number of newcomers has risen (and perhaps not coincidentally, the number coming from European countries has dropped to a tiny minority), the trend has been to limit the numbers of immigrants, or the benefits available to them, in efforts to protect U.S. jobs, resources, and security.
The result is a tangle of legislation that’s widely considered more complex than the Tax Code, implemented by a massive and often dysfunctional bureaucracy.

Nolo’s first book on immigration law came out in 1995. We now offer four books on the topic, all of which have been rewritten numerous times, to help people navigate through the shifts in course and the bureaucratic whirlpools. With many prospective immigrants unable to afford legal help, or confused about whether they’ve got a chance at a U.S. green card or other immigration benefit in the first place, these books continue to serve a valuable function.

Immigration Books from Nolo

Immigration Books from Nolo

Fun Facts About US Nonprofits, 1971-present

Here’s what the “third sector” has been up to:

  • As of the year 1971, the number of U.S. nonprofits had only recently surpassed 200,000 in number. Today, there are approximately 1.5 million nonprofits (tax-exempt organizations). [1]
  • Only a few years before Nolo’s founding, in 1969, the steady increase in the number of nonprofits had led the U.S. government to sit up, take notice, and pass significant tax regulation of nonprofit activities, including requiring them to file detailed annual reports.
  • Greenpeace, one of the world’s best-known nonprofits, was founded in 1971, under the name the Don’t Make a Wave Committee. Its first act was to send a chartered ship to Alaska to oppose U.S. nuclear testing.
  • In 1971, Americans’ gifts  to charity totaled around $125 billion. Today, the total is approximately $300 billion.[2]
  • The year 2011 is the 410th anniversary of the passage of the Statute of Charitable Uses, an Elizabethan British law that’s considered the grandparent of U.S. nonprofit laws, and was in force in the original U.S. colonies.[3]
  • The largest public charity in the U.S. is the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.[4]
  • President Barack Obama donated the $1.4 million from his Nobel Peace Prize to various charities, including ones helping students, veterans’ families, and survivors of Haiti’s earthquake.[5]

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